Cabinet misshuffle

The gov't has chosen the minister in charge of 'selling' Israel from a party deemed racist by many.

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February 25, 2007 21:24
3 minute read.
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It's called a cabinet "reshuffle," and it has about as much direction and logic as the name implies. The result is: Israel Beiteinu MK Estherina Tartman will become tourism minister, while the post's current occupant, Isaac Herzog, will fill the long-vacant spot at the Social Affairs Ministry. Tartman is most famous for opposing the appointment of Arab Labor MK Ghaleb Majadle to the cabinet, claiming that the idea of an Arab minister is like "taking an ax to the tree of Zionism."

  • Lieberman taps Tartman for Tourism This comment, though to some degree disavowed by party leader Avigdor Lieberman, was seen to be in keeping with that party's attitude toward Israeli Arabs, whom it proposes should be gerrymandered out of Israel and into a Palestinian state. The notion of stripping many or most Israeli Arabs of their citizenship by redrawing the nation's borders is widely considered racist, anti-democratic and extremist. In fact, it is only because the idea is considered completely unrealistic that Israel Beiteinu could be brought into the government at all. Now, however, the government has chosen the minister in charge of putting our best face forward, the tourism minister, from a party deemed racist by many Israelis, let alone abroad. Is this the image we really want to create for ourselves in the world? Obviously, the goal of choosing the best person for the job had nothing to do with this appointment. This illustrates what has become the rule: The choice of ministers is completely disconnected from their qualifications to lead those offices. The problem was comically symbolized by the pictures of Defense Minister Amir Peretz "reviewing" a military exercise through binoculars with their lens caps on. Though Ariel Sharon was once photographed in just such an embarrassing position, in Peretz's case it was an emblematic reminder of his lack of qualifications for his job. If Peretz were not clinging desperately to a post for which he knows he is not suited, the cabinet's chronic mismatching could have been alleviated rather than multiplied in the current reshuffle. A substantively coherent, rather than seemingly worse than random, reshuffle would have sent proven socioeconomic activist Peretz to the Social Affairs Ministry, put someone qualified at the Defense Ministry, and left Herzog where he is doing a perfectly good job. That Peretz and other Labor ministers would consider the post of social affairs minister to be a demotion speaks volumes about their priorities. It was bad enough for Peretz, who said he was seeking to lead the Labor Party precisely to raise the profile of social issues, to take the Defense portfolio in the first place after last year's elections. Then, there did not seem to be a war in the offing. In the wake of the war in Lebanon, however, the Peretz mismatch has become glaring at both ends - at the social ministries he ignored and at the Defense Ministry that he will not leave. Ironically, taking the Social Affairs Ministry, despite its presumed lower status, might have been a smart move to salvage Peretz's reputation and show that he is willing to put the interests of the country first. But the problem goes beyond Peretz's stubborn obtuseness. The attitude that there need not be any relationship between a ministry and the skills and background of the person chosen to lead it accentuates the public's view of their leaders: that politicians care only about personal ambition and nothing about the national interest. The craven projection of this image is substantively bad, and it is not even smart politically. Some day, a party will come along that credibly commits itself to showing minimal respect for one of a government's most fundamental tasks - appointing ministers. Perhaps that party will credibly commit itself to taking the even more important step of eliminating unnecessary ministries and streamlining, thereby demonstrating that the provision of efficient government is more important than narrow coalition considerations. If such a party were to emerge, and seen to be acting according to such principles rather than jettisoning them at the first opportunity, it would likely establish itself for the long-term and maintain considerable public support. Despite the way our politicians act, good governance and good politics need not always pull in opposite directions.


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